It is not difficult to talk about traitors. There are so many of them around, easy to spot because they usually hold positions of power or hold great wealth. The worst traitors come from the Church and the State, both being the dominant and domineering institutions of the country over the past 400 years. The Church and the State are natural sources of vision and virtue, of courage and heroism, of nobility and purity. When they live up to their highest calling, an enlightened society is born and raised.
The story of the Philippines, however, is a story of failure of leadership. In a democracy, the failure of society may mean the failure of the citizenry. “For the people, by the people, of the people” is more than a democratic principle, it is democracy’s fundamental philosophy. That is why I cannot point to the people as the culprit for the massive poverty and corruption that shame the nation. Our poverty is not a choice — it is an inherited status, a curse from birth. Corruption stems from abuse and exploitation of power, and the people are its victims, not beneficiaries.
The State in colonial times used force to rob the people of their land and loot the country of its resources. The Church at that time shared in the loot and cooperated with the State to manipulate the native population into submission. There is little need for me to retell an old story. I am not a historian, only a student of history. And if our history were not so crucial to our present, I would prefer to simply move on in cadence with time.
Today, however, is a special moment when history and the present meet to reconcile and change a course, or agree to continue a path where a people’s soul wallows in slavery and darkness. After more than twenty years, another moment emerges with a special invitation for courage and faith. Once again, change knocks loudly in the hearts of Filipinos, asking to come in, bearing messages of encouragement from America.
When slavery has been one’s reality for centuries, it conditions the mind and spirit to cope by first resigning to it, and eventually by accepting it as a natural state of life. It used to be that parents of poor families would dissuade their children from even imaging a better life. It was, for those parents, simply fantasy to do so as life would never allow such a shift from poverty to comfort or abundance. Ambition was not only useless, it actually was dangerous. Ambition only got the poor into trouble with the Church and the State who were always vigilant against their subjects hoping and dreaming.
We must remember history, not only the events and the special personalities but also the effects of it that we carry to the present. If change seems to come so slowly, this is only a direct result of a history that has so deeply embedded submission and resignation in the psyche of ordinary and poor Filipinos. Those among us who clamor for change would do well to understand the process and effect of colonial times, to understand the exploitative nature of the Church and the State all those centuries. Once we do, we can design a mechanism to deconstruct the imposed horizon blanketing a captive’s mind and ultimately allow the rainbow to inspire a benighted people to follow the light.
In a democracy, government is the one tasked not only to govern but to lead and inspire. In a religion, the church is expected to nurture and to pastor. In the Philippines, however, both government and church have failed miserably as institutions in their mandated roles. What has saved the day for them are pockets of good workers on the ground, public officials who defy the collective look of graft and abuse by their sincere and dedicated service, priests and nuns who shun the pomp of position and protocol and instead take the posture of washing the feet of the poor.
Where government and church as institutions have oftentimes been traitors to their higher calling, ordinary workers among them have been heroes and have carried the day for them. Even when whole institutions become corrupt, the light of a few honest and courageous members can continue to provide hope to an exploited society. Because we have many traitors who keep Filipinos in the dark, who abdicate the empowerment of the many for fear of losing historical advantages, we need the heroes who will stand on firm ground, who will stay rooted in righteousness despite the corrupt environment.
When we have heroes to point to, they become sources of light. I have found many in my life, a “barangay” [village] chairman here and there, a mayor here and a governor there, an honest treasurer, a determined teacher. They have been sources of light. The Church in the Philippines has her own heroes, even a few martyrs. There are those parish priests who defy their own poverty and always have something for the poorest in their areas. And who can discount the many religious orders of nuns who truly mother their flock as their way of life.
Treachery has brought poverty to a land of abundance. It is treachery against public duty, against morals and ethics. It is treachery against the teachings of Christ whose disciples in the Philippines have not been faithful reflections of. How can a godly gift of abundance be cornered by the greedy in a land where religion teaches love and sacrifice giving as its primordial virtues? But in the face of the worst distortion and perversion of democracy and Christianity, heroes have not been bullied to squat and be quiet. To those heroes we owe so much, maybe even everything thus far.
Thus far, only thus far. Heroism is not only for the rich, the powerful, the learned. Heroism is a birthright, a forgotten one for most, but always there as a choice for each of us. We have relied on our heroes for so long but mistook their roles as saviors when they served most of all as inspiration for our own heroism to awaken. Heroes save, but heroes inspire, guide and empower us to be heroes ourselves. This is the invitation of change – for us to be heroes in this moment of history. Change is not a call for higher incomes, for more economic opportunities. Change is a call for heroes to save their motherland. Change is a call to be brave, and then for the brave to serve as models of virtue, of generosity and courage, of faith and patriotism.
* * *
Confucius: “Cowardice is seeing what is right, and failing to do it.”
By Jose Ma. Montelibano
First Posted 23:54:00 01/29/2009